‘He was fun, he was intelligent, he was caring,” says Razzak Mirjan, 30, a lawyer from London, reflecting on his younger brother, Beder. “He was surrounded by a loving family, had a great friendship group, was happy at school. He loved flying, and was going to study aeronautical engineering.”
And yet despite all this, three years ago, when Beder was just 18 years old, he took his own life.
“There were no warning signs. It was a shock to us all. He did have moments of being down, like everyone. He was having some therapy, taking some medication, yet it wasn’t noticeable that he was suffering,” says Mirjan. “Sometimes I wonder if it would have been easier to cope if I had some sort of understanding of why it happened.”
The shock of Beder’s death was immense for the whole family. “There is anger, confusion, pain. That’s the nature of suicide, you lose someone so abruptly you don’t have time to come to terms with it. Someone you love is taken away from you in seconds.”
But what has gone some way to helping the family come to terms with their loss is the charity Beder, which Razzak set up in his brother’s name last year. It began with organising events, but now they are publishing a new cookbook, From Beder’s Kitchen.
The approach of the charity, explains Mirjan, is about moving “softly” to remove some of the stigma around talking about suicide and mental health problems.
“We have to show our vulnerability and show that sharing that is a sign of strength,” he says.
They began by finding ways for people to get together.
“Before lockdown, we organised a range of in-person events; from mindful painting classes to yoga, to football matches, a Barry’s Bootcamp class, and a big concert of more than 700 people. We bring like-minded people together and we signpost them to our partner charities, Young Minds and Samaritans. We give people a chance to talk and share if they want to. We’re taking a holistic approach; encouraging self-care and people taking some time out of their busy lives.”
At the start of the pandemic, Beder moved its efforts online, starting live cook-alongs with chefs on its Instagram page @beder_uk. These proved so popular (“it gave people some structure and community in lockdown”) that Mirjan had the idea to create a cookbook, with recipes and reflections on mental health from 90 well-known chefs and cooks. The result is From Beder’s Kitchen, a cookbook that feels as comforting as freshly baked bread, and especially right for our troubled times. It has contributions from a roll-call of well-known chefs and restaurants: Gordon Ramsay, Yotam Ottolenghi, Romy Gill, Thane Prince, Richard Turner, Dishoom and Caravan to name a few. There are also MasterChef contestants, authors and bloggers.
The recipes are accompanied by quotes and musings from the cooks about how they cope with their own personal struggles. Many extol the soothing, meditative nature of cooking, the joy of sharing food, and nourishing ourselves.
Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon, and the father of two boys, provides a recipe for flash-fried courgettes. He writes: “Cooking for me is a form of meditation. It is also a wonderful way to spend time with children, particularly boys, side by side rather than face to face, allowing them to talk about what is on their minds”.
David Atherton, who won last year’s Great British Bake Off, provides “gutsy muffins” for good gut health. There’s a whole chapter on food for good gut health as it’s so linked to our mood.
David writes: “Food has the potential to heal, sustain and nourish. The kitchen has always been a sanctuary for me; I find the act of kneading bread or shelling nuts meditative. Making food to share with others feeds a community, which in turn feeds my life.”
Atul Kochhar, the twice Michelin-starred chef from East India, provides his favourite recipe for lamb shapta. “Having gone through personal tough times, I know how important it is to have a balanced mind, body and soul,” he writes in the book.
“We all suffer from mental trauma and illness from time to time. It needs healing as much as any physical illness, except these scars are much deeper and more painful. Since cooking is my passion, it takes my mind away from uncertainties. I find myself a lot happier and more focused in the kitchen.”
Many of the book’s contributors talk about cooking as a bond between the generations, a cause for family togetherness and a font of happy memories. Eating together as a family has certainly helped Razzak deal with his own grief.
“On Sunday, we often go to my father’s in South Kensington and the whole family would have dinner together. My parents divorced when I was younger, my dad remarried, and so Beder and Maryan, my sister, are my half-siblings, but it never felt like that. We’re a very close family. It’s not just about the food, but about the ritual and importance of coming together as a family.”
Part of that stems from Razzak and Beder’s Arabic heritage. “My mother is English and my father is Arabic and eating together is cultural; Arabs like to have a day of family. It’s the same for my wife, who is originally Lebanese. We often go to her family for dinner on Sundays, too. Conversations around the dinner table are some of the best. This cookbook is an opportunity to normalise the conversation around mental health.”
Looking back, does he think that was an issue for his brother, not being able to open up about his own suffering?
“That’s a painful question to answer, but I guess it must have been the case. We want to encourage people to talk, to reach out to friends and family. We want to reverse the concept of ‘manning up’. To encourage men to feel they can open up, not to just have that conversation about football and beer.”
Three years after Beder’s death, his brother says he is still up and down.
“Sometimes I am fine, sometimes I am in floods of tears. My daughter was born four days ago, and it was an incredibly emotional experience with Beder not being there,” he says.
“But it gives you perspective. To value the people around you rather than how much money you have in the bank. And the charity has helped. But it’s bittersweet. Would I love to have Beder back with us? Yes, but at least we are doing some good in his name.”
From Beder’s Kitchen is available now for £22, from beder.org.uk
Flash Fried Courgettes with Green Sauce
by Henry Dimbleby
"This recipe is so quick to prepare and cook."
Prep time: 10 minutes | Cooking time: 5 minutes
For the green sauce
Handful of fresh mint (approx 20g)
Handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley (approx. 20g)
Handful of fresh coriander (approx 20g)
1 tbsp capers
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 anchovy fillets
200ml extra-virgin olive oil
½ lemon, juiced
For the courgettes
3 cloves of garlic
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
To make the green sauce, put all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. The sauce should be runny but substantial. Transfer into a sealable jar and pop into the fridge.
You can omit the anchovies if you need to, but they do give the sauce a rich depth. You can use any soft green herbs you have to hand; basil and tarragon both work well.
Cut the courgettes on the diagonal about 1cm thick and finely chop the garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan. Add the courgettes, and cook fast until they start to brown (about four minutes).
Add the garlic a minute before serving, toss and season well.
Serve the courgettes immediately, drizzled with the green sauce.
Recipe from Leon: Naturally Fast Food by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent (Octopus)
by Atul Kochhar
"This is one of my favourite recipes and something I like to cook often. The inspiration came from northeast India and Tibet, where shapta is usually made with beef or yak meat, but this version involves deep-fried lamb."
Prep time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 15 minutes
For the shapta sauce
Oil, for cooking
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp red chilli flakes and seeds
100ml light soy sauce
¼ tsp timur or Szechuan pepper powder
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp sugar
200ml light tomato sauce or ketchup
For the marinade
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp rice wine
Pinch of salt
Pinch of Szechuan pepper
For the lamb
400g lamb fillet
2 tbsp oil, plus extra for deep frying
2 tbsp finely chopped garlic
4 whole red chillies, split open
2 red and yellow peppers, cut into strips
1 medium pak choi, cut into strips
Spring onion greens, cut into strips
Knob of ginger, cut into strips
First, make the shapta sauce.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan then sauté the garlic and chilli flakes. Add the soy sauce, timur or Szechuan pepper powder, black pepper, sugar and tomato sauce or ketchup. Stir in two tablespoons of water and simmer for a few minutes, then take the pan off the heat.
Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a shallow bowl.
Slice the lamb fillet thinly and coat the meat in the marinade. Heat a pan one third full of oil and deep fry the lamb slices until crisp and light brown. Transfer the lamb to a tray lined with kitchen paper so the excess oil is absorbed.
Heat the remaining two tablespoons of oil in a wok, then sauté the garlic and whole red chillies.
Add the fried lamb and peppers, cook for one or two minutes and then add the shapta sauce. Add the pak choi and spring onion greens, sauté for two to three minutes and then add the ginger.
Stir briefly to combine everything and serve hot.
by David Atherton
"These muffins are full of lots of different starches and indigestible fibres that feed your microbiome, and the pears add natural fruity sweetness. You can choose any additional flavours from spices to chocolate chips, but I love almond and raspberry."
Prep time: 15 minutes | Cooking time: 20-25 minutes
1 x 410g tin of pear halves in juice
75g caster sugar
40ml light olive oil
25g cooked rice
1 tsp almond extract
120g plain flour
50g wholemeal plain flour
10g flaxmeal/ground flaxseed
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
Handful of frozen raspberries
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6.
Make a kind of porridge by putting the oats in a small saucepan with 100ml of the juice from the tinned pears.
Simmer for three minutes on the lowest heat until the oats are soft. Add this ‘porridge’ to a blender with the pear halves, sugar, honey, oil, rice and almond extract then blend until smooth. Crack in the eggs and pulse until incorporated.
In a mixing bowl, toss together the flours, flaxmeal, baking powder and cinnamon. Pour the dry ingredients into the blender mixture and stir until combined.
Prepare a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases. Spoon the batter into each case until a quarter full, drop two frozen raspberries into each one and then add more batter until three quarters full.
Bake the muffins in the preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, then leave to cool slightly before serving.